Making Global Virtual Teams Work (by Angela Weinberger)

Unlike traditional teams, global virtual teams don’t meet daily at the same location. Global virtual teams have become a common phenomenon in large organizations as well as in small businesses. In a recent survey mentioned by Keith Ferrazzi on HBR, 79% of respondents said they always or frequently work in dispersed teams. They define virtual teams as “work groups which (1) have some core members who interact primarily through electronic means, and (2) are engaged in interdependent tasks — i.e. are truly teams and not just groups of independent workers.” We would add that these teams are usually working across time zones and members have different cultural backgrounds.

Like all other teams, global virtual teams require proper leadership and management for optimum results. Let’s start with why we should opt for them.

Advantages of Global Virtual Teams:
• Companies can bring global talent together when projects start, while employees can enjoy the flexibility of working from where they live according to their schedule.
• Organizations can cut costs on relocation, traveling, real estate and other business expenditures. Businesses that use virtual teams to build a global presence, outsource their operations and need less common expertise or skills from people who are reluctant to relocate from their home location.
• Global virtual teams add diversity to a project. They are ideal for brainstorming ideas and fostering creativity. They also enable organizations to network globally and to gather culturally diverse perspectives.

Challenges of Global Virtual Teams:
• Compared to traditional teams, global virtual teams might be hard to get right and challenging to manage. It might not always be easy to bring people from different cultures to a common platform and to get them to collaborate on a project.
• Differences in communication patterns can impact goals and motivation. The reliance on modern technology, emails, and virtual meetings can take away from the dynamics of in office face-to-face-exchange. Thus, in order to excel, each member needs to be self-motivated.
• The need for collaboration could cause delays in the progress of the project.

Tips To Manage Global Virtual Teams:

1) Build Trust
The first and foremost requirement is to build and maintain trust between team members. This helps to overcome communication barriers and sustains the motivation of each person involved. Without trust, team members will experience challenges in working together which is the essence of virtual teams.

2) Set clear Goals, Standards & Rules
Managers need to set clear goals for all members, as well as for the team. Performance standards and communication rules must also be clearly defined to avoid misunderstandings and harmful assumptions. In addition, they should also be clear on tasks and processes.

3) Enable constant Communication
Team members should be able to communicate clearly, constructively and positively, even in the absence of nonverbal cues of face-to-face communication. Optimum use of technology for this purpose is a requirement.

4) Build a Team Rhythm
It is crucial for global teams to have regular meetings in order to stay on track, ideally the same day and time each week. Create meeting agendas in advance with agreement on communication protocol and timings. In case of time zone conflicts, rotate meeting times to practice fairness and avoid bias.

5) Develop your Global Competency
Develop into a leader who appreciates the experience of managing global teams. Periodically set up one-to-one performance management meetings with your team members and give feedback. Let your team members know how they contribute into the success of your project so that they get a feeling of ownership.

Ferrazi, Keith (2014): Getting Virtual Teams Right, Dec Issue. Harvard Business Review.

Angela Weinberger is a Global Mobility Expert and Intercultural Coach. She has worked in Human Resources and Global Mobility during her corporate career. Angela founded Global People Transitions in 2012. She recently published “The Global Mobility Workbook – A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing International Assignments”

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